‘The leaves are turning orange,’ I stare up at the trees that are slowly getting their green drained.
‘Winter is coming,’ Ayesha says ominously.
‘That doesn’t sound like such a bad thing,’ I try.
She wraps her jacket tightly around her body, ‘It’s horrendous. Especially in this city.’
I had met Ayesha a few weeks ago in our university’s book club, aptly called: The Edsel Book Club. We were quite creative with that one considering we attend Edsel School of Art She was the only person whose opinions consistently clashed with mine. She was also the only one I immediately liked.
She was a tiny girl; short but with wide hips, which she proudly flaunted. She refused to wear any colour, donning only the darkest shades of black, deviating slightly to a splash of grey every now and again. Every time Ayesha went home for a weekend, her mother cursed the very day she moved to this country.
‘If ve had stayed in Bombay,’ her accent was still thick despite the many years abroad, ‘you vood be vearing beautiful sari now.’
To which Ayesha would roll her eyes, receiving a smack behind the head.
Her mother made the best butter chicken.
‘So, are you coming with tonight?’ Ayesha asks once we reach her lecture hall, ‘Karaoke. It’ll be fun – once you’re drunk enough,’ she adds.
I laugh, ‘I have papers to finish.’
‘Come on!’ she begs, ‘A whole bunch of us are going; me, Alec, Noah, Hannah…’
‘I barely know you and Alec,’ I joke.
‘Yeah,’ she widens her eyes, ‘you really need to get out more; meet new people.’
‘I have my hands full with the two of you, thank you very much,’ I hook her arm in mine and drag her to the hall’s ancient oak double-doors. Already, the rest of the Philosophy students are shoving their way through the crowd outside, ‘Besides, I need to finish these assignments by Friday, and I won’t get them done when I’m wildly hungover tomorrow.’
She rolls her eyes, ‘Fine. Be the exemplary student,’ she pokes me in the arm, ‘but you promised you’d come to dinner with me on Sunday. My mom’s making chicken.’
‘Are you kidding?’ I nod, ‘Of course.’
‘My mother insists that your high levels of spirituality rejuvenate the energy in our house,’ Ayesha rolls her eyes so far back in her head, I thought for a moment, they had gotten stuck in her brain.
‘Don’t envy my energy,’ I throw my hair dramatically over my shoulder to which I receive a vulgar flick of the finger.
If I had gone that night, I would have met Hannah a few months sooner, but it probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway. She was completely immersed in her photography and had sworn off relationships until spring which is when I ended up meeting her. Still, I wonder if I had met her before New Zealand, if things might have ended differently between us.
The next week, Ayesha drags me along to a gallery opening in the city. She wants me to meet her friend, who is now the manager. She says he’s wonderful and that we would hit it off. As soon as I meet him, I know Brandon is only interested in Ayesha. He has been in love with her for almost a year now, he tells me after having his third glass of champagne, and is now ready to give up and move on. I beg him not to, although I have no idea whether Ayesha even remotely feels the same way. I’m a sucker for a love story, even if it inevitably means I will be spending the rest of the night on my own.
The gallery is a peaceful place to roam around in. It’s abuzz with people attending the opening, but when I stand in front of the canvas or the frame, I find myself oddly mesmerised. I have no idea what I was supposed to be looking at half the time, but it makes me feel something. And it doesn’t matter that I am alone. Out on the balcony, Brandon is declaring his love for Ayesha, people around me are laughing and sipping their strawberry champagne, and I’m about to meet Hannah.
‘You know, they say if you stare at the photo for long enough, it comes to life,’ someone behind me says.
‘I can believe that,’ I take a step back, realizing that I am breathing on the glass, ‘The waves have started bubbling together.’
‘Do you like this one?’ she asks, sipping at her flute of champagne.
‘Absolutely,’ I nod eagerly, ‘This is what art is supposed to be; a vision you can’t put into words. A picture that is indescribable.’
‘Waves,’ she suggests.
I shake my head, ‘Not even close.’
‘Which other pieces did you like?’
I try to explain the ones I remember, but the words only jumble together as I fail to describe any of the images that mattered to me.
She ends up giggling as I utter the phrase: ‘The hair with the trunk’ and her laugh makes me feel like less of an idiot somehow.
‘You’re really bad at this,’ she smiles.
I sigh, ‘Would you believe me if I told you that I’m studying for an English degree.’
‘Well,’ she shrugs, ‘art is the vision you can’t put into words.’
I grin – an idiot once again; she turned my words into a quote.
‘I’m Hannah,’ she elegantly lifts her right hand; like a ballerina would do.
She frowns at a memory she can’t remember, but her lips smile at me, ‘What a wonderful name.’
I laugh, ‘I never thought it quite special.’
‘A true writer’s name,’ she declares.
I could not think of any single author named Olive. Perhaps I would be the first.
‘Is it safe to assume you do not attend many of these things?’ she places her empty glass on the tray of a passing waiter.
‘What gave me away?’ I raise my eyebrow, ‘My clear lack of knowledge concerning any of these artists?’
She shrugs, smiling, ‘Just a little.’
‘I’m actually here with a friend,’ but I’ve been standing alone for most of the night, ‘Well, she’s…’ I wonder how to explain the situation, ‘with the manager at the moment.’
‘Oh, you know Brandon?’
‘Not really. Ayesha does.’
‘You’re Ayesha’s friend,’ we both say. She’s Hannah.
‘You’re the Hannah that packed up and moved to New Zealand for the winter.’
She beams, ‘That’s me.’
‘You used to have blue hair,’ I say before it dawns on me that I know this after stalking her Instagram.
She seems completely unfazed though, ‘I did, yes. Now I’m back to my boring brown.’
I vividly remember thinking how completely not-boring she was. There was nothing extravagant about her either, and yet, she was the type of plain that caught your eye; that you stared at from afar; the kind of plain you only ever saw on photos but knew you would never be cool enough to replicate. You would spot her in a crowded room and your eye would linger. With her wavy, hazel hair that stroked her jawline, her piercing olive-green eyes, her baggy, beige knitted sweater, black, ripped jeans and burgundy Doc Martins, she was the exact opposite of boring.
Of course, I don’t say any of this to her. Instead, I say, ‘The hazel suits you.’